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Thrill-Seeking Wounded Vets Find Exuberance & Solace in Extreme Sports


“They are doing things we never thought possible 10 years ago."

Wounded U.S. veterans have found an unlikely way to cope with their injuries -- by engaging in extreme and "adaptive" sports.

These men and women are quickly showing that a wheelchair doesn't prevent someone from engaging in exciting -- and sometimes death-defying -- physical activities. New technologies, mixed with character and determination, are molding a new breed of wounded soldiers.

Take, for instance, Erik Burmeister, a 37-year-old who was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident. While his very serious injury would have emotionally and physically side-lined many others, Burmeister decided to get active by learning to ski and scuba dive. But his quest for exuberant activity didn't end there. The New York Times has more:

One day, at home in Pennsylvania, he searched the Internet for an activity that would replicate the thrill of his dozen parachute jumps with the Army and stumbled upon information about the Able Pilot program, the group organizing the first wheelchair paragliding class. He was one of the five chosen from more than 100 applicants.

The Able Pilot program is a four-day training initiative that focuses upon teaching individuals the trial-and-error mentality needed to engage in the sport. Considering that participants are in wheelchairs, there's a great deal to learn to ensure that the sport is engaged in both safely and wisely. The program describes itself as follows:

To help people with disabilities (spinal cord injuries, amputations, and neuromuscular disease) to safely experience the freedom, joys and sense of accomplishment of free flight that paragliding offers.

The ABLE Pilot™ program is a research and instructional program designed to establish and support the development and testing of formal paragliding, hang gliding and ultralight instructional protocol and methods for student pilots with various physical disabilities.

In describing this experience, Burmeister says that he and the others in the Able Pilot program have accepted their limited mobility, but that these sports offer an opportunity to move effortlessly, while enjoying an "incredible" "sense of freedom" again.

Then, there's 32-year-old Anthony Radetic, a former helicopter pilot, who claims that he thought he'd never fly again after he broke his back in a motorcycle accident.

While Radetic was initially too embarrassed to go outside after his injuries forced him to leave the Army, he, too, was introduced to "adaptive sports." Radetic left behind his shame and embarrassment and began jet skiiing, downhill skiiing and handcycle racing. He even made the necessary adaptations to his motorcycle so that he could continue to ride it.

These individuals represent changing patterns among injured veterans. The Times explains:

For generations, returning soldiers with serious disabilities, whether sustained in combat or in risky off-duty pursuits like motorcycling, found limited — and relatively tame — options for athletic recreation. But the latest generation of disabled veterans are increasingly returning to the thrill-seeking activities they enjoyed before their injuries.

These inspirational veterans are defying the odds. As Kirk Bauer, executive director of Disabled Sports USA says, "They are doing things we never thought possible 10 years ago." And he knows from experience. Bauer, who lost a leg in Vietnam, works through his organization to assist injured veterans in finding solace through athletics.

Certainly, some individuals and groups would view these programs as too risky. As the Times reports, some were hesitant to support the aforementioned programs because of the potential physical risks associated with them. But others believe that these healthy alternatives provide a stark contrast to the depression that often accompanies veterans' injuries.

Either way, these activities provide an excellent outlet for these men and women.

(h/t The New York Times)

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